The city of Portland shutdown in the middle of March, in the heat of St. Patty’s week and the beginning of their tour and festival season. Using their three phase method of re-opening, they moved into phase 1 in June. Phase 1 allowed a fixed capacity of 50 people indoors and no more than 100 outdoors. While music venues have remained closed, restaurants and bars were able to acquire permits to host live music events in their outdoor spaces. This has led to some complications due to a restaurants lack of experience in showcasing live music. The city hopes to soon move these events back into music venues spaces in a safe and socially distanced manner. The local music scene quickly rallied and formed the Independent Venue Coalition, which was able to procure $50 million in state funding for the local arts and culture, which included many music venues and will help them cover their overhead expenses for the months the’ve been closed in 2020.
Scroll below to read the full interview from November, 2020 with the Portland Pilot City Leaders, Lisa and Meara.
What did the overall situation look like in your city when the pandemic hit?
Everything shut down in the middle of the week of St. Patrick’s, which is one of our biggest weeks of the year. Additionally, March is the beginning of our tour season with the Club Circuit and Festivals during the summer. Within a week our gatherings were limited to no more than 500 people, then 250, and then by St. Patrick’s Day all of our bars, restaurants, venues and public gather spaces shut down.
What is the current situation in your city? What has changed?
Oregon set up a three-phase process that determined the number of people in an indoor and outdoor space, depending on the number of new cases. In the middle of June, the state moved into Phase 1 which is a fixed capacity that allows no more than 50 people in an indoor space and nor more than 100 in an outdoor space. The next phases allow for more people, but we have stayed in Phase 1 since June. There was a permit created to allow restaurants and bars to make fenced in outdoor spaces in the streets. This led to restaurants and bars hosting live music to attract business but there has been a lack of experience, guidance and regulation in these situations. In the meantime, we have created a venue task force to work with our local government for these practices to be revised and possibly get music back in venues in a safe manner. Venues have not been able to participate at all due to being considered a Phase 2 business.
Additionally, through the Independent Venue Coalition, we were able to get around 180 independent venues throughout Oregon to participate in getting responses for a survey on the current situation regarding live music. We received over 11,000 responses and found that around 90% of people miss live music and want it to come back in a safe manner, and close to 40% said they would attend live music in a socially distanced and safe environment.
What did you get out of being a pilot city in the REVS initiative?
The best part of being a pilot city in the REVS initiative was the collaboration and knowledge sharing between people in the same industry across the country. It was a great networking experience for people within REVS and even outside of the pilot cities. We were able to hear what other cities were trying and learn their process in how they were able to get it done.
Were you able to precure funding for the local venues? If so, where did the support come from?
We started immediately in March to try and secure funding, which became the birth of the Independent Venue Coalition mentioned earlier. We were able to rally all of the local venues to join and started calling legislators. The entire process lasted from mid-March until mid-July, when our requests were approved. We received $50 million in State funding to support arts and culture (largest in the country!), which included music venues. There was a grant process issued based on an individual venue’s operating expense. The grants were used for venues to pay the minimum operating expenses from March through the end of 2020 and began being distributed in September.
Additionally, we were able to allocate $2.5 million of the federal CARES money to performance venues within the city that had not previously received funding from the state. The dedicated music venues are considered spaces that are only open for live music events and they were taken care of with the $50 million state grants.
Cover Photo Credit: Wes Hicks